Arabian Region Prayer Journey Review
Visited 2 countries, 8 cities
For security reasons the location of this trip is deliberately omitted
In November, I joined a short-term prayer opportunity in the Arabian Region. I wanted to be part of this prayer walk team for several reasons. Professionally, I wanted to see God’s work first-hand and I also wanted a local Norwegian pastor friend of mine to see it. Hopefully, he would then be inspired to share his experience with other pastors and this would mobilize more Norwegians into mission.
Personally, I wanted to experience the middle-eastern culture, to see the Muslim world first-hand, and to challenge myself to face some of my personal fears. Ever since September 11, 2001, my worldview regarding this region and its people has been heavily influenced by the media and people with polarizing views. Even within the church, I have heard that Islam’s main goal is to overtake the world and kill all “infidels.” Therefore, I felt compelled to get out of my comfort zone and see for myself. This report is in no way intended to make a political statement or to argue against the long-term goal of Islam. It is only to report to you what I experienced, to encourage you to pray for this region, and to challenge you to see for yourself.
Port of entry was a modern world class city, my first impressions were: clean, safe, professional, and status-conscious! The airport reminded me of a mix between Las Vegas and New York City with very bright lights, and lots of glitz and glamour. I also noticed a very “status” conscious culture. At the passport control area, there was a lady telling everyone which line to enter and when to approach the window. When the officer at the window motioned for me to approach, I glanced back at the first lady to verify it was OK for me to proceed. When I got to the window, the officer scolded me for looking back at the first lady. She said “why did you look at her? I am the one in charge!” That exchange set the tone for much of my observations in this country.
The people (generally) appear to be very status conscious. They only do very high-level work and they hire ex-pats to do all their other jobs. They rarely made eye contact with us and when they did, it was mostly a look of indifference. One thing that surprised me was the interaction I saw between the men and their wives and children. Fathers appeared to be very involved with their children and I saw many couples holding hands or walking arm-in-arm. I didn’t expect to see that.
Something else that surprised me was the presence of an evangelical population. We visited a very large gathering of several hundred people. There were no locals present (that would be illegal), but the ex-pat community was definitely being reached by this church.
I was also surprised by the secret police, literally! One morning I was out early with my camera looking for a place to buy a cup of coffee. While I was walking, I took some photos of the people/buildings not thinking anything about my behavior or movements. As I was standing at a street corner trying to locate a coffee shop, a white Toyota Land Cruiser (the vehicle of choice) pulled up beside me. A local man got out from the opposite side and walked towards me with his hand out in greeting.
I thought, “Wow, this is different, finally someone wants to talk to me.” The man introduced himself as Mohammad, showed me his identification and said, “I am secret police!” Can you imagine the thoughts that were going through my mind now?!
He asked me if I had taken pictures of the mosque that was across the street and I had to quickly recall whether I had or not. I said “no” and showed him the images on my camera. He was satisfied and started to leave. But, I wanted to engage with him somehow so I asked him why that would be a problem and what I could take pictures of. He explained that the mosque was under construction and that would give a bad image of the mosque. I didn’t understand his reason, but didn’t want to press the issue. As he was leaving I asked him one more question, “Do you know where I can get a cup of coffee this early?” He smiled and pointed me to a local coffee shop. Nothing like the secret police to get your day started off right.
We visited several cities in the first country, met with some Kingdom workers, and learned much about the work that is going in in that region. The best visit we had was to a Christian hospital that was started by a Christian husband and wife doctor team back in the 1960s. This couple loved the Arabs and made such an overwhelming impression that the royal family donated the property needed to build a fully functional hospital to serve that area. The King also decreed that this hospital would be free to operate under Christian principles. The doctor and his family are still local legends in that area.
After several days we travelled to 2nd country, where we visited the capital and some inland cities. The differences between the two were immediately obvious. By crossing a boundary in the sand, we had literally entered a different world. The latter are so friendly! They were making eye contact, smiling at us, and even waving to us from inside their cars.
There were two different times that we were near families with small children and the fathers handed their babies to our team members to hold. We couldn’t believe how willing these people were to engage with us.
There were also two different times when I was sitting in the local market place and men actually sat near me and started to talk with me.
In both countries, we had opportunities to visit mosques. These buildings were beautiful examples of architecture with amazing chandeliers, paintings, and stained glass. Here is what happened during one of our visits.
One of the mosques had an Islamic Information room which they invited everyone to visit. We had been briefed before the visit that this room is where the “conversion” begins. So, I had to go!
It was a small room and there was a man serving tea and dates (the standard local snack). They “invited” me to sit and I immediately felt like I was at one of those places that try to sell you vacation property. The man who came to “talk” to me was only interested in a monologue, he didn’t care to hear my thoughts at all. After several minutes, I managed to direct his attention to a display they had on the wall. The display had several inspirational sayings and one was, “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” I told the man that I was impressed by that saying and I asked him if he knew who said it. He thought for a few seconds and said, “no, I don’t.” That was my opportunity to share with him what I believed about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life.
He didn’t care to listen to me as I had listened to him, nor was he interested in finding common ground. He acted offended that I would even say something like this. So, I excused myself and was eventually able to leave the room.
Outside of this room, there was a younger man who was obviously working there so I approached him. He was very willing to have a dialogue and we found some common ground very quickly. I even asked him, “I understand that Islam requires the death of Infidels. Because I am a Christian, does that mean I must die?” He assured me that he did not want to kill me nor did he believe that Islam taught that. We chatted for several minutes and he even allowed me to take a photo with him. We agreed that if I would be in town longer, we could have a coffee and have a very friendly conversation. Within 30 minutes and 30 meters of each other, I had two very different encounters with Islamic men. Both had a very strong commitment to Islam, but they had very different ways of interacting with me.
A final thing I learned from my interactions with the people is they apparently think all non-Muslims are Christian. I had three different conversations with people about Islam and they all pointed to non-Muslim people who were passing by (based on their clothing) and said, “I dress the way I do because I am a Muslim and that person dresses the way they do because they are a Christian.” I found it very interesting that 3 different people in different cities made the same generalization; all non-Muslims are automatically Christian.
I would encourage everyone to visit the Arab region sometime. I felt safe all the time, it wasn’t any more expensive than a big city in the US, everyone speaks English, and they cater to tourists. I would especially encourage Kingdom workers to go on a prayer journey through the region.
The verse that kept coming to mind while I was praying over the region was Romans 10:20
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” ESV
There are many stereotypes in both cultures, some true and some not true. My goal, was to let the people see my smile and willingness to interact with them, and hope they would realize that all Westerners are not like what they see on TV.
May the people of the Arab region find the One they are not seeking through the prayers of those who have been found.
A special thank-you to everyone who made this trip possible through prayer and financial support.
A market scene, a mosque, engaging with a local man, father giving us his babies to hold, engaging with some local youth, and a man at the market.
Greetings from Norway
Let me (Dave) begin by confessing and asking for your grace. I began this update in June and as you can see, it has taken me a long time to complete it.
Being very honest, writing these updates is one of the most challenging things I do. I feel compelled to tell stories of success and accomplishment, but in our context, success and accomplishment are not the same as in other ministries. Nevertheless, here is what has happened in the past few months, as much as we can remember and are able to write about…
In June, the transition into the interim field leader role didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. Even before the official change-over, issues that were previously unknown (to me) began to reveal themselves. Most of these issues involved people and/or money, two subjects that don’t always have easy solutions and some of which are still being worked through over four months later.
I quickly realized that the best thing I could do as interim leader would be to establish a team environment that the next leader would be able build upon. It appears that this was God’s plan as well, because He quickly brought three people to me who were like-minded and willing to help. More on them later.
Also in June, I was invited to collaborate on writing a script for Global Village, an interactive experience that would be used to mobilize teens at TeenStreet, OM’s annual teen conference in Germany. The other writers were in Greece and Sweden so everything had to be coordinated via Skype. This was a fun challenge and much of what I contributed was actually used in the production.
Global Village cast.
July and August were very busy because we were finally picking the fruit from a full year’s labors. Visjon (Vision) is a family camp for one of OM Norway’s church denomination partners. Since last summer, Jo had worked to bring a team of volunteers to serve at this camp through OM. Two ladies from the US and a family of four from Australia joined the team and the response from the denomination was overwhelmingly positive. The camp leaders have already asked her to do the same next year! This was a huge accomplishment for Jo.
We returned home from that camp, did laundry and departed for the TeenStreet conference which turned out to be one of the highlights of our year. This year, we had 45 people associated with the Norwegian team, our first year there were only 23. We consider this another major success after a year of hard work.
After the Teen Street conference, we took four days to visit some American missionary friends in Paris. Even though we spent many hours walking the city, it was still a relaxing time of no decisions and great food. An added blessing of this visit was being able to share with like-minded English speakers who understood the struggles we have experienced as cross-culture workers.
Three new team members
When I became the leader, a lady who previously volunteered and served as a board member for OM in the past (as well as a personal friend to us) told me she was excited about the new future she saw for OM Norway and she wanted to be part of it. In order to make that happen, she quit her job and is now volunteering for us two days a week. This is a huge win because her skills and passions enable her to fill a position that has been missing for years. She is now responsible for Partner Development. That means she will tell our current donors “thank-you” and will also work to find new donors. This is a vital role that will allow OM Norway to “keep the lights on,” and contribute to other fields and projects in the years to come.
In August 2016, I started having coffee with a local youth leader because some of his youth had attended Teen Street (TS) with us in the past. He was interested to hear more about TS because each year the teens who attended were very excited about it. This year, I invited him to attend TS and he said “yes.” After we returned, I had another coffee meeting with him and asked him about his experience at TS. (I couldn’t talk to him during the camp because we were both too busy.) He said it was the best camp he had ever attended and he wanted to tell other youth leaders about it! Then, I asked him if he would be willing to join our team and do that officially for OM, and he said “yes!” He now volunteers with us one day a week and oversees all things associated with our Teen Street ministry. This breathes new life into our team and takes a lot of pressure off of the rest of the team members.
During our initial vision trip to Norway, we met a man who had previously been involved with the office finances. We have connected with him several times for social occasions during our time here. Early this spring, we had the opportunity to spend some time with him and his family at a church outing. During that time, I asked if he would be willing join us again. I shared my vision for creating a more professional and accountable work environment and he said “yes!” Due to his primary employment, he is only able to give us two days a month, but his accounting skills have already had a positive impact on the financial area of the team.
We see these new team members as snowballs that started rolling down the mountain. They all have passion and vision for their roles and they will be able to continue the work even after we leave Norway. That is very satisfying to us and gives us a sense of changing the future of OM Norway, as well as leaving a solid team that the next leader can continue to expand.
Meeting our neighbors.
Several weeks ago, we saw this moose (and probably his brother) about 40 yards behind our house. They were just relaxing and didn’t appear to be anxious about their surroundings. We were somewhat concerned because there is a walking path between our house and them that many people use every day. We didn’t like the idea of meeting them while we were out for a stroll.
Jo’s responsibilities have increased
OM is divided into “areas” based on geographical regions for administrative purposes. The Norwegian field office is part of the European Area. The Area provides centralized support and ensures standardization between the different field offices in areas like finance, IT, personnel, etc. In September, Jo was asked to take the role of Interim Area Personnel Officer. This means that when the other Field Personnel Officers have questions about policies or procedures, they will call or email her and she will (in theory) be able to provide them the help they need.
Even though she doesn’t see herself as the expert, she has already been able to help others work through their issues. This is very rewarding because she knows that many people helped her when she was learning and now she is able to pass that on to others.
Church: The church environment has always been challenging for us because nearly everything is in Norwegian (naturally). Even though they provide translation (almost every week), we don’t always feel like we get the full impact of the sermon. It’s another reminder that the language barrier is much more than we anticipated.
Pray that we won’t be discouraged by these momentary setbacks and we will continue to find joy in fellowship with our brothers and sisters here.
Wisdom: The role of leader has put me into situations that I am completely unprepared to handle. It’s also forcing me to make decisions about people that I don’t enjoy making. On the other hand, it is providing me with learning opportunities that I would not have had apart from this experience.
Pray that I will have the wisdom and grace needed to use these experiences effectively for God’s kingdom.
Finances: It is a praise that we have been here for over two years and this is the first time we have had to mention this. Due to the exchange rate between the Norwegian Kroner and the US Dollar, our support is starting to trend in a negative direction. Also, as every missionary experiences, we have lost some supporters since we arrived here. The situation is not critical yet, but it could be critical if the exchange rates continue to fall.
Pray for our support to continue at a sustainable level.
Team Members: The 3 new team members are a huge blessing to us. However, we still need more help and we must also have replacements for ourselves.
Pray for more workers to fill the critical roles that are needed in our team.
Thank you for holding the rope for us as we help build vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached through OM Norway
Dave and Jo
Hello again from beautiful, and chilly, Norway. Our time in the US was very beneficial and we got the answers to several questions. But, the questions we got answers to weren’t necessarily the ones we were asking…
Time in the mountains
We were blessed with the use of a beautiful cabin in the north Georgia mountains. It was remote, peaceful, and located very near the Appalachian Trail. Dave took advantage of this by spending several days hiking on or near the Trail. These were great times of solitude and reflection for him. Jo used much of the time to catch up on one of her favorite past-times; reading.
Time with our girls
The highlight of our trip was Easter weekend when Lindsay, Caleb and Mako along with Taylor, Logan, and Teddison joined us for a wonderful time of family, food, and fun. We colored eggs had an egg hunt, and Jo (as usual) prepared a wonderful meal. It was wonderful having everyone (and the dogs) together.
Time for listening
One of the purposes of this trip was to disconnect from the busy-ness of ministry and to hear from God what our next season would be. Should we start to pull back from Norway in anticipation of returning to the US, should we pursue other areas of ministry that interest us, or should we put down roots and make long-term plans for Norway? These were all options but we didn’t know which one we should choose.
Time with others
We were also able to connect with Jo’s family as well as friends and partners in the Atlanta area. The last night in the US we hosted a small reception where we reconnected with about 20 folks. It was a fun time of questions and answers and it was very encouraging to see how they were engaging with us in the ministry.
A few weeks before we left Norway, our leaders announced that they were stepping down from their leadership roles. This announcement came after many months of struggling to juggle the demands of parenting and leading. Even though this was not a surprise to us, it did create even more uncertainty for us and our future. All we knew was that the Board of Directors would meet the day after we left and they would come up with a plan.
After one week in the US, Dave received a call from the Chair of the Board and he was asked if he would assume the role of interim leader of the team effective June 1. Because we had been watching this situation develop for almost a year, we knew that one day this question could be a reality. Therefore he was prepared to say “yes.” While this did give some clarity to our immediate future, it also created more questions. We would need to wait until we returned and Dave met with the Board to get any more answers.
Another piece of news we received during this time was that our current visa (permission to live in Norway) would expire in 2 more years. Although this was discouraging at first, it was, in fact, another answer to one of the questions we were asking ourselves; how long could/would we stay in Norway.
One thing we often consider is what would we do after Norway? We definitely want to stay involved in mission, and I (Dave) have an idea of what my ideal role would be, but would that opportunity even be possible? Well, the day before we came back to Norway, that question was answered. Dave has officially offed a ministry role that would fulfill many of his desires for the “dream job” and there were also very interesting opportunities available for Jo. And they were willing to wait for a year while we completed our commitment to Norway. Hmmmmm……
We have been back for 3 weeks now and have met with the Board and the OM leader who oversees the Scandinavian countries. This has allowed us time to consider Dave’s new role and the impact it will have on our lives as well as the team. Even though the challenges will be many and the rewards quite possibly few, we feel that for him to accept this role and to provide leadership for the team is the right thing to do. His primary focus will be to strengthen and add to the current team so that the next leader will have a strong environment to step into.
While we were in the US, one thing became very clear to us. We no longer think of the US as being “home.” We are very happy with our lives here and we are fully engaging in everything involved in living here. We shared this revelation with several of our Norwegian friends this week and they seemed to be very honored that we would so eagerly embrace their country and culture as our own.
Until the Board finds a new leader, we will be 100% focused on our responsibilities here in Norway. Once that person joins the team we will re-evaluate the situation and then determine how to proceed. We have turned down the job offers in the US but we were told there would be doors open for us when we return… which will probably happen sometime between June 2018 and June 2019.
In the mean time
Jo’s responsibilities will (mostly) remain the same. She will continue to handle the application process for the folks we send out, and she will visit and care for those who are already serving in foreign countries. She will also have one more full-time responsibility, reminding Dave not to “mess things up.”
Dave will continue in his original role of visiting churches and mobilizing Norwegians into missions. Additionally, he will absorb the CEO, COO, and CFO responsibilities of the team which was previously divided between two people.
Please pray for:
- Wisdom we will face many challenges in the months to come
- Team members we need several people to fill essential roles quickly
- Grace I (Dave) am often reminded by my loving wife that “gentleness and patience ” are not my strengths. This could be problematic for me in my new role hearing God’s voice there will be many things to distract us and we must stay focused
- hearing God’s voice there will be many things to distract us and we must stay focused
Thank you for partnering with us as we serve the Kingdom from Norway.
…among the least reached…
Hello to all
Just a quick note to let everyone know we are less than 72 hours from “wheels-up” for the US. We have a few last-minute items to take care of here but mostly we are focusing on what/how to pack for a month.
As we mentioned before, the purpose of this trip is to un-plug from Norway and consider our future. At this time there are several factors that will influence our decisions and some of those are still unfolding. We hope to have clarity soon and we will keep you informed as soon as we are able.
For all our Georgia friends, we will host a reception on April 27, from 6-9 at the Southside church in NEWNAN. We will provide coffee and cake and this will be an opportunity for you to hear first-hand what we have been up to while in Norway. Each of you in the Newnan/Fayette/Atlanta area will receive an invitation in the mail in a few days. We hope that all of you can join us for the evening.
Here are a few things we have “done” recently:
Dave has preached at 4 churches in the past 6 weeks and one has decided to partner with OM.
Jo has set up 2 teams that are coming to Norway to work with 2 of our partner churches. Hopefully these will lead to more teams in the future.
• Weight allowances for our luggage
• Trying to stay “unplugged” while in the US
• Enjoying the time with our daughters
• Clarity for our next season
• Re-engaging with Norway when we return
Thank you for “holding the rope” for us while we serve in Norway and may Father be glorified in all we do.
Blessings to each of you
Dave and Jo